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Western Mass. lawmakers on state cannabis committee weigh in on Healey pardon proposal

Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Governor Maura Healey Announces Cannabis Pardons stream

Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey plans to pardon people convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession charges. It's a move being praised by officials across the state, including lawmakers in western Mass.

Governor Maura Healey, a former state attorney general, unveiled plans on March 13th to issue blanket pardons for residents who have misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions.

“With this action, Massachusetts will be the first state to take action since President Biden pardoned federal marijuana convictions and called on governors to follow suit,” Healey said last week. “In fact, we believe that this is the most sweeping cannabis pardon ever proposed by any governor in the United States.”

Healey made the announcement in front of the Grand Staircase at the State House, with dozens of officials joining her, including Springfield State Senator Adam Gomez – both chair of the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy as well as someone who’s had his own experience with a cannabis conviction.

“I can tell you about my personal impact - I've been waiting since I was 17 years old,” he told WAMC.

Gomez described facing a mandatory minimum punishment for possession with intent when he was a teen.

“What do you tell a 17-year-old kid that makes a mistake, right? And obviously, has all these hopes and these dreams and these things moving forward, to go to college. And then, you know, they have to cop out to a plea bargain, because, obviously, no 17-year-old belongs incarcerated for marijuana.”

Now a state senator who debates issues on cannabis policy on Beacon Hill, Gomez says he welcomes the governor’s move.

He also called attention to the fact that by going the blanket pardon route, the governor’s plan would affect a number of residents who were either unaware of or unable to complete the expungement process those with similar cannabis-related convictions can go through.

Expungement for some types of marijuana convictions in Massachusetts have been around since 2018, but even after further advocacy, going through the courts can be easier said than done.

Gomez says he’s been witnessing the process himself and started the expungement process in September. Now that it’s March, he says it’s a long process that can have a significant impact.

“The timeframe can stop a person from having a job, [stop] a person from getting housing, from getting affordable housing at that, depending on the magnitude of the charge,” Gomez said. “But, you know, the governor made the right decision, her team, and obviously, shout out to all the advocates and folks.”

It’s a sentiment shared by State Representative Aaron Saunders of Belchertown.

“It's an important step for equity - it's an important step for an awful lot of folks who have had these types of convictions follow them around, as they tried to gain employment, as they try to gain housing security,” he said.

Saunders also sits on the same cannabis committee as Gomez.

He tells WAMC that while there are a number of organizations and efforts in the state to connect individuals with resources needed to start the expungement process, as well as to seal records in some cases, there are still hurdles a pardon can mitigate.

“I think that's going to provide a benefit to those who may not have the know-how around the legal system or access to the legal system the way that other, you know, some other folks may, who have taken advantage of expungement,” Saunders says.

Specific numbers on how many would be affected by the blanket pardon have not been provided by the Healey administration, which says it could impact “hundreds of thousands of people.”

As reported by the Associated Press, a pardon from Healey does not automatically expunge criminal records or seal them.

The pardons would not go into effect until after the Governor’s Council votes on the proposal.

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